Tag Archives: bookplates

More Bookplates

Inspired by my colleague’s post about bookplates, I thought I’d like to add a medieval example. Not that the Middle Ages produced bookplates, per se; the earliest one, ‘tis commonly said, is the angel holding a shield with an ox——the bookplate of Hilprand Brandenberg, who in 1505 donated his personal library of some 450 books to the Carthusian monastery of Buxheim in Germany. It is printed (if that’s a necessary component in the concept of “bookplate”), and it was applied to the front pastedown of books, and it did point to a specific owner. You can see a colored example of it at:
http://www.modernmicroscopy.com/article_pix/040420_bookplates/figure5.jpg

But the bookplate I’m talking about here would more usually be described as a historiated initial——an initial that contains a “story,” with human figures in it. No more suspense; here it is:


The initial is an N; two saints stand on a doorstep, admonishing a group of kneeling clerics, an angel flies above, the whole in a lovely verdant landscape. The N begins the mass for Sts. Peter and Paul, “Nunc scio vere …,” “Now I truly know ….” But all Columbia owns of what was once a very large choirbook is this single leaf, catalogued as Plimpton MS 040A. Where was it made? For whom was it made? Squawking birds’ heads (there are three in the foliage across the top margin) point to the Veneto; “broccoli” trees in the landscape suggest Lombardy. And the brilliant blue of the clerics’ robes can only mean one religious order: the Canons Regular of S. Giorgio in Alga whose nickname was “Azzurrini” for obvious reasons. Put it all together! The house of the Azzurrini in Brescia, in territory now Venetian and now Lombard, was dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul. Is this historiated initial a bookplate or what?

There’s more. On the edge of one of the steps is a profile face of a man; he looks to me like a real man, as if this is a real portrait. I fondly imagine this man to be the artist who has “signed” his “bookplate.”

Bookplates, ex libris

[f. L. ex librs, lit. ‘out of the books’, i.e. ‘from the library’ (of the person whose name follows); mod. Lat. phrase often used in inscriptions indicating the ownership of books.] from the OED

Like many rare book libraries, RBML has loads of bookplates pasted into its volumes. Bookplates help establish provenance, and they frequently tell us something about how previous owners thought of their books. One of my favorites is Hart Crane’s ex libris, shown here in his copy of James Joyce’s Exiles (NY, 1918). Crane’s vorticist plate was pasted into many of his own books; here he’s personalized this volume a little further by adding a portrait of the author (Zurich, 1919) .

Other interesting examples in RBML‘s collections include this Charles Dickens ex libris, found laid in to our facsimile copy of The Picwick Papers in parts (Picadilly Press, 1931). The plate itself is held inside a glassine envelope, printed with provenance information from the sale of Dickens’ library.


RBML is also home to several bookplate collections, spanning from the late 16th through the 20th century. Click here to see the list.

And while we are on the topic, RBML also holds the Rockwell Kent Papers, which includes a file of drawings, sketches, and bookplates Kent designed for many well-known readers. Here’s Kent’s sketch of Alan Horace Kempner’s bookplate alongside the final version–Kempner’s rich and important book collection was donated to RBML.